Thursday, December 8, 2016

What Remains by Shulamith Chernoff

          To my mother, Shoshanna, 1893–1994

After all these years without you,
your bed still remains untouched.
The white goose down quilt from Poland
still bears the imprint of your body.
Photographs crowd your dresser—
you and Aba, your head erect,
your black hair a crown of braids.
Imperious, your swan neck
and blue eyes commanded attention
even then.

With a cloud of dust,
I open your old trunk.
Three braids lie neatly coiled
in paper: one black, one gray, one white
Here is the brass Russian samovar,
a wedding gift in 1913.
Here are the letters, the fine script
in Polish, Russian’s French, Hebrew,
love letters from my father
when you visited your parents in Tarnov.
I cannot live without you. I long for you.

I am intruding. 

I find your notes to me,
a letter of thanks to Shulenku
for her endless devotion.
Is this the same person I feared
as a child? Your steady script
etched in your diary
before your hands trembled
beyond control.

You left instructions for me,
how to open the safe.
You carefully typed the letter:
I must face the hard reality
that my days are coming to an end.
My illness made a great splash
among my grandchildren.
I lived in a state
of pleasant estivation.

You looked at me for the last time
as I held your fraying letters, your master’s degree,
pictures of your family in Poland,
the Russian samovar gleaming
in the darkened room.

Shulamith Chernoff is an Associate Professor Emeritus of Education at Southern Connecticut State University. She holds graduate degrees from Columbia University and the Teacher’s Institute of the Jewish Theological Seminary. Her poetry has appeared in Caduceus, Connecticut Review, and Louisiana Literature. Her second collection, Solace, is forthcoming from Five Oaks Press in 2017.

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